In the past five years, Jumoke Dada has collected more than 3,000 names for her database. The young entrepreneur in Philadelphia has used that database to launch and grow Signature RED, her marketing and communications company, help people by connecting them to resources and other contacts and raise awareness for her causes, including Project A.L.O.E. Steal her networking secrets.
Birth of a Networker
Like most super networkers, Dada didn’t start out by confidently striding into a room, ready to hand out her cards like a casino dealer. She says of her first networking event, “I remember walking into the room and feeling overwhelmed by the number of people there.” So she went to the ladies’ room to give herself a pep talk. “I know this sounds weird, but I started to dance to get myself pumped,” she says. “And then I told myself that I was going to approach 10 people and get 10 cards.” At first she targeted individuals who were standing off by themselves, but by the end of the night, she had walked up to almost every group, big and small, and exceeded her goal by 30 people.
Doing some work in advance won’t only help you feel more comfortable introducing yourself. “It will also help you accomplish something,” Dada says. “You don’t want to be a serial networker who just collects a lot of cards.”
1. Look at the R.S.V.P. list. These days of online invites, it’s easy to see who else will be attending the event. Pick out at least three people you want to meet or organizations you want to talk to, and do a little research on them. Then think of questions you can ask. “I also make sure I have good questions for any guest speakers,” Dada adds.
2. Practice your pitch. “You want to be clear about who you are, what you do, why you’re there and depending on the situation, what you want from a person,” Dada explains. Rehearse aloud—and not just in your head—so your words will roll off your tongue.
3. Take advantage of technology. Because Dada meets so many people, she uses a card scanner. “I like Neat Receipts,” she says. “It’s pretty accurate digitizing information on the card, and I really like that its software allows me to link my expenses to events in the same database.” But if you’re meeting just a few people at a time, she recommends using a phone app like CardMunch (for iPhones) or CamCard (for iPhones and Androids) that takes information from the snapshot of a card and puts it in your contact list.
4. Make yourself memorable. Asking smart questions and being especially articulate will help you stand out in a sea of faces and business cards. But it also doesn’t hurt to have a phrase or slogan you repeat or a visual gimmick. For example, the back of Dada’s card is red and when she hands it out she tells people to remember the woman with the red card. When she follows up, she writes in the subject line of an email, “[Event name] – Woman with the red card.”
5. Be in touch within 48 hours. If you wait longer, Dada says, “you lose momentum and people tend to forget who they met.” She prefers to follow up with email, though “if I really hit it off with a person, I’ll pick up the phone,” she says. She starts out by reminding the contact of something they discussed or had in common—and the relationship takes off from there. “I’ve become a big connector, introducing people to other people that I think could help them,” she says.
“To anyone nervous at a networking event like I once was,” Dada adds, “remember that you are in a room with like-minded individuals who are there to meet others. So aim for your goals and don’t be afraid to engage, because your next encounter could be the start of something awesome.”